By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan — For Chief Warrant Officer Joel Pedersen, Sergeant Major of the 38 Canadian Brigade Group Battle School and the Indigenous Advisor to the Brigade Commander, the Canada Army Run (CAR) half-marathon is nothing new. In fact, CAR 2019 will be his fourth time participating. What is new is the title he will carry at this year’s event: Indigenous Ambassador.
A few weeks before the 2019 run, which takes place September 22, CWO Pedersen (who will serve as co-Ambassador along with Corporal William Ross from 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry), spoke with Canadian Army Public Affairs.
In addition to all things CAR, he discussed what it means to have been the first person from a First Nations Community (Fond du Lac, Saskatchewan) to attain the position of Regimental Sergeant Major of an infantry unit, and the many opportunities that come with being in the Army Reserve.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Q1: You've been a marathoner for some time. What drew you to running?
I've enjoyed fitness training, sports and running ever since I was a kid. Running has helped me set goals like completing carrier courses and specialty courses like the jump course and mountain operations, or running the New York Marathon.
Now it’s a part of my lifestyle, and I try to share that with others of all ages and abilities.
Being in the Army we run – it's part of what we do, it’s part of the culture. As far as competitive or distance recreational running, that was through colleagues – non-commissioned officers that were around me. They set an example by being physically and mentally fit.
Q2: How did you feel about being asked to be an Army Run Indigenous Ambassador?
I'm so honoured and grateful. Army Run is one of the top half-marathons in Canada and for the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) it should be on the must-do list.
It is the Army’s half-marathon but it's also Canada's half-marathon.
I find that the running community is similar to the military – there’s a great camaraderie. Because you're sharing a physical challenge whether it's a 5K, 10K or 21K. It's an individual activity and also a group activity with that positive energy.
Q3: How do you plan to approach being an Ambassador?
My approach will be to ensure that everyone knows they are welcome at the Army Run, regardless of age or ability – to inspire and empower as many people as I can through an active and positive healthy lifestyle.
As a First Nations soldier, I hope that others may follow and surpass any of my accomplishments. Running for me is like medicine – it is holistic and natural, it is therapeutic and a tangible physical feeling.
I think of Indigenous soldiers from the First World War like Tom Longboat and Alex Decoteau. Those soldiers were true warrior runners and those gifts helped them accomplish what they had to do.
Private Decoteau was the first Indigenous civilian police officer in Canada – he served with the Edmonton Police and later he was an infantry soldier. I like that example because I served with the Saskatoon Police Service for 25 years, and have had the honour to serve in the CAF now for almost 32 years.
I also think of my friends and colleagues who are no longer able to run, for they also inspire me and motivate me to keep moving forward.
Q4: Are you bringing some family along this year?
Yes, my wife Kim and I are both runners. She and I will be running the half marathon. Our kids are not able to attend this time, but it would be cool to run the distance together someday.
As I mentioned, running for me is like natural medicine. It's always very positive for my mental health. Going for a run is something that we both enjoy doing and it's time that we can spend together.
A run is an opportunity to meditate and clear my mind. I can feel everything around me – the ground under my feet, the air that I’m breathing.
Q5: When did you first join the Army Reserve and what was your inspiration?
I was 17 years old when I joined in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. I was still in high school and I wanted a challenge. My parents had been in the Army Reserve when they were younger and a lot of my family has served, going all the way back to the Boer War and the First World War.
On my mother's side of the family, they fought at Passchendaele, Vimy, and throughout Europe in the Second World War.
The other part of my decision to join was that, at a young age, I knew I wanted to be a police officer, so I felt the military would be a good beginning for that journey.
Now when I talk to soldiers and young officers I tell them, especially if they've just joined the CAF, ‘You have no idea the opportunities that are going to come before you and the doors that are going to open because you've raised your hand and said that you're prepared to serve your country.’ It's a huge privilege and a great honour to be a part of the military.
Q6: You were the first person of First Nations ancestry to serve as Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) of the North Saskatchewan Regiment, and also the Royal Regina Rifles. How did it feel to have achieved those milestones?
I didn’t get there by myself. I had some incredible leaders, family, friends, and colleagues who assisted me when I needed them. The many RSMs who served before me and provided mentorship to me ensured I knew what right looked like.
As a First Nations soldier, it is an opportunity to be a role model that I do not take for granted – to champion other Indigenous soldiers who may not have felt empowered.
Part of my duties now as the RSM of the Battle School, and the Indigenous Advisor to the Brigade Commander, is to ensure all soldiers and leaders are treated with respect.
I heard once that people are not always going to remember what you said, or even what you have done, but they will always remember how you made them feel.